The Amazon Strain by Katherine Garbera

the amazon strain.jpgHer research indicated that a deadly new virus had surfaced in the heart of the Amazon. And Jane’s own legendary virus-hunting father might be infected. But no one paid attention to her data. In fact, after surviving a suspicious plane crash, she began to suspect that someone wanted to bury the evidence, and Jane, too…

Armed with the antidote and a suspiciously enigmatic partner—fellow virologist Mac Coleman—Jane raced to the rescue. But with betrayal, time and the Amazon itself working against her, the bookish Dr. Miller would have to tap her inner adventuress to make it back alive….

HelenKay:  According to the Harlequin website, the theme of the Silhouette Bombshell line is: "Strong, sexy and savvy, she’ll save the day and get her men – both good and bad."  The promise to the reader is of a strong woman in charge of her own rescue from a precarious situation.  The romance is the subplot, not the main action.  If the point is fast-paced action with a background romance, The Amazon Strain delivers on its pledge even though it falters in the process.

The book starts with Dr. Jane Miller in her lab at the CDC. She investigates information provided by her discredited scientist father about a deadly virus spreading throughout the jungles of Peru.  Over the objections of her superiors and without the support of her office, she sets off with a potential cure, her supplies and a loaner scientist, Mac Coleman, from Rebel Virology as her guide and assistant.

A deadly disease, the mistrust and undermining by colleagues, and the concerns about seeing her estranged father aren’t Jane’s only troubles.  She battles a former lover turned rogue, some angry locals, her rampant insecurities, a shoot-out or two, a plane crash and her inner demons.  Garbera establishes a ticking clock so clear and steady that the reader can almost hear each move of the hand as the chapters pass. 

Garbera’s strength is in her pacing.  She sets the scene and pushes her characters forward without ever looking back.  The focus stays on the main plot and the romance subplot weaves in and out without really taking off until the very end of the book.  By that time, the main – if not sole – investment by the reader has been in the suspense.

In order for the premise of this series to work, the heroine must be larger than life, believable, imperfect without crossing the thin line into unlikable and, above all else, interesting.  She carries the book and, with the case of The Amazon Strain, provides the only point of view.  Here, Jane is smart and driven.  Where her character unravels is in her conflicts with her father and men in general, which while workable at the beginning of the book, become tedious and melodramatic over the course of approximately 300 pages because Jane does not appear to grow in any way.

Jane’s distrust of anyone with a Y chromosome appears to consume her life to the exclusion of everything else.  Had Garbera fleshed out her relationship with Mac and Mac’s character, these flaws may have resolved in a satisfying way.  The potential is there but it is not realized.  There are hints of an amazing character in Mac.  He hides a shady past, possesses a dominant personality and knows how to follow and not always lead.  Garbera puts Mac in very un-hero circumstances by physically weakening him for parts of the book.  Rather than capitalize on those moments, Garbera stops short, leaving the reader wanting more Mac and Jane and less of Jane’s trust issues. 

This action adventure will hold your attention.  The plot is engaging, even though it doesn’t always feel new.  The bigger problem is the dissatisfying feeling that settles in once the book is closed and you realize the book never dug quite as deep as you wanted to go.  That the characters physically moved but emotionally stood still.

Wendy:  Katherine Garbera’s The Amazon Strain follows virologist Dr. Jane Miller through the Peruvian jungle as she battles foes with deadly intent:  the elements, insects, viral infection, and two footed, gun-wielding predators.  In a race to save her father and the indigenous tribe he lives with from a mutated and lethal virus, Jane works against the advice of her colleagues at the CDC, flies under the radar of the Peruvian government, and unwillingly aligns herself with the head of Rebel Virology, Mac Coleman.

From the onset, Jane’s journey is quickly paced and beset with conflict.  Jane is more than up to every task she faces be it an attempted armed break in of her hotel room, a sabotaged flight over the rain forest, trigger happy mercenaries, white water rapids, or a friend turned foe.  She can land a well placed kick or punch, jump out of a plane, dodge bullets—and bandage the wounds of the ones she doesn’t—and construct a bamboo raft then pilot it over treacherous waters.  But, for all of her smarts and daring, the one thing she can’t do is trust anyone besides herself to be in control. 

The story’s action moves swiftly enough as Jane hurdles from one dangerous encounter only to face a new obstacle.  With all the action and drama there is little space or time left for character development or romance.  At the novel’s onset, Jane is an untrusting control freak and she gains little more than lateral moves emotionally throughout her journey. Truth growth would have been nice and enriched the read, but that would have required a character arc, something The Amazon Strain fails to deliver.

While Mac is given the space page-wise deserving of a love interest, his character is left unexplored.  His missteps and shrouded history are impetus enough for Jane to withhold confidence—though it’s clear anything would steer her to mistrust—but not important enough for Garbera to devote time to explaining Mac’s past.  Throughout, Mac declares his past off limits and the walls erected never come down.

Garbera’s prose falls far short of compelling: it is both tedious and repetitive.  The narrative lacks rhythm and in places it reads like a collection of stilted and unrelated sentences.  As it does here: 

She was still trying to deal with everything that had happened.  She couldn’t believe their plane had crashed.  Her hands shook and her mind was racing.  The jump hadn’t been as bad as she’d expected considering they’d had to drop out before they’d planned. 

The dialog clings to the surface, never venturing the depths for either subtlety or subtext.  As here, when Mac and Jane discuss the effects of a spider bite on Mac received: 

“I don’t want to slow anyone down.  But I think the spider venom my have entered my blood stream.”

“With the sweats I was thinking the same thing.  Your body is trying to purge the poison.”

This novel and, perhaps, in fact, the concept of the Bombshell line, begs the question:  If the heroine is the hero of the novel, what role and purpose then does the Hero accomplish?  The intent here is never for the romance to take center stage.  However, there is a romance and that romance has a satisfying conclusion.  What it doesn’t have is a couple where one partner balances the other; there is no ying for yang, no completion of the whole.  It is odd to imagine a successful partnership between two characters when one, in this case Jane, needs nothing a partner could proffer.  She is self-sufficient to the point that she tenders no void to fill, no space for another to occupy.  Even getting past the traditional Hero role—or the traditional male role—to provide for and protect, there is little for Mac to do and he pales next to Jane.  He is nothing more than the moon; the reflected light to Jane’s sun.  There isn’t a need she has that she can’t fulfill on her own.  She might want for friendship and love but by journey’s end manages to fill these needs with others.

While this is ostensibly a novel about adventure and romance, the adventure is too contrived, the romance is unfulfilling and, finally, the hand of the author too obviously intrudes: Garbera doesn’t trust her readers and therefore piles on obvious details to the detriment of emotional depth.

Wendy’s response to HelenKay:  I often viewed Mac as fulfilling the role of heroines of days gone by.  Jane is in charge and Mac follows her orders.  Though not incompetent, he is repeatedly injured, thereby slowing down the true hero—Jane—on her journey as she is forced to care for him and carry both of their work loads.  When faced with bad guys, Mac may draw his guy and fire, by it is always Jane’s show.  Jane saves herself, the day—and Mac.  The sum total of Mac’s character is to quietly support Jane, take a back seat to her role as Alpha, and care for her, despite the fact that she presents her worst side to him.  How did this role work for you?

HelenKay’s response to Wendy:  My preference is for a strong man who knows how to save the day.  As a result, this may be the beginning of my lifelong struggle with Bombshell.  To be fair, even though it is not my preference, Bombshell does require the heroine to fill the traditional role of the hero.  That’s okay so long as the men still feel real and equal to the women.  Here, Mac didn’t strike me as ineffective but I did feel the guiding hand of Garbera in purposely weakening him when he would otherwise be strong so that Jane could shine. If the traditional form is for the hero to physically rescue the heroine and for the heroine to emotionally rescue the hero — or for both rescues to be mutual – the emotional payoff is missing here.  The adventure rather than the exploration of the characters is the focus, which left me feeling a little cheated by what could have been.  

Wendy’s Final Thoughts:  Long on action and adventure.  Short on romance. Devoid of deft prose. Not recommended.

HelenKay’s Final Thoughts:  The Amazon Strain is imperfect, just like its heroine, but the book delivers on the promise of the Bombshell line with fast pacing and a strong woman ready to save the day.  Recommended.

You can visit Katherine Garbera here and buy this book here or here.

3 thoughts on “The Amazon Strain by Katherine Garbera

  1. Well, I saw that this was next up and since it was on my shelf, I read it. I do mostly agree with what you said. It is definitely lacking in emotion, but I did enjoy reading it. There was just something missing. I do agree that Jane doesn’t seem to grow at all and that Mac was an intriguing character who we should have learned more about.
    I don’t not recommend it, but I’d also say that if you’re looking for romance, this isn’t the place. And really, Bombshells aren’t about romance. This was good afternoon fluff reading, though. It just didn’t have the edge it needed to be truly fantastic. I think it would’ve made an interesting full-length novel if many of the elements had been fleshed out. Such as can Jane really rely on Mac? She had doubts in the beginning, but they were easily shrugged off. And the risk of the virus spreading further wasn’t dealt with as much as I’d have liked. So…good premise, just doesn’t quite deliver.

  2. Hey Nicole–this is a bit off topic, but I saw Marianna Jameson’s My Hero on your side bar. I debated that title on my last trip to the bookstore–something about characters that are writers bothers me–but didn’t bring it home. Are you planning a review?

  3. Wendy, I should have a review soon. It has a slow middle, so I put it down when other anticipated books came in and forgot about it, but when I do read it, I enjoy it. And well, there’s a scene where she plays paintball and beats the crap out of a team of policemen that’s funny. I should have it done by the end of the week.
    Thanks for the reminder.

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